Panthers forward Jozef Stumpel returns to the lineup Tuesday when the Cats play the Lightning in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
CORAL SPRINGS – Jozef Stumpel would have liked for things to be different this season. He would have liked to play a full season, contributed more offensively, and been an integral part of the Panther playoff run.
But now, after missing 29 of the past 31 games with a separated shoulder, Stumpel is finally going to get his chance to contribute beginning Tuesday evening in Tampa.
With Ville Peltonen out of the lineup after suffering a broken toe in Saturday’s 4-2 win at BankAtlantic Center, Stumpel will be back in the lineup when the Panthers travel to the St. Pete Times Forum to take on the Lightning.
Once again, it’s a huge game for the Panthers, who are only three points from the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Peltonen isn’t the only Panther who may miss Tuesday’s game. Defenseman Magnus Johansson, who has dressed for the past 10 games, did not practice Monday and is “day-to-day,” according to GM and coach Jacques Martin with a hand injury.
For Stumpel, Tuesday’s game will be his first in nearly two months.
“I don’t know if I’m 100 percent,” said Stumpel after Monday’s practice here at Incredible Ice. “But (the shoulder) feels really good on the ice. No pain. No restrictions. That’s all I can say.”
Stumpel injured his shoulder going into the boards Jan. 10 at Atlanta. He missed seven consecutive games before playing Jan. 30 against Buffalo and Feb. 1 against Vancouver. But Stumpel hurt the shoulder playing the Canucks and has since missed 22 consecutive games.
Stumpel realizes it will be a little “tougher” coming back after missing so many games, but he says he’s anxious to “help the team and, hopefully, pull out another win.”
When asked if the season has been frustrating, Stumpel replied: “Definitely. You have a little trouble with the shoulder, then try to comeback, and you get even worse. Then you wait, wait, wait a long time.”
“But now is a good time to come back and help the team get to the playoffs,” he added. “It’s going well and, hopefully, this is the year when it will come true and we’ll be the lucky ones.”
Stumpel was centering a line Monday with Steve Montador and Radek Dvorak. When asked if Stumpel would play at center or the wing, Martin said it will depend on the game.
“We have some flexibility there whether (Stumpel) plays center or plays the wing, depending on how the game is going,” Martin said. “We’ll try to find the right chemistry and combination.”
Martin also has a few choices on defense if Johansson is unable to play. Since he said Monday that defenseman Mike Van Ryn is still unable to play, his decision on who to dress comes down to Branislav Mezei, a healthy scratch five of the past six games, or Noah Welch, who hasn’t played since Oct. 16 when he separated his shoulder.
THE ROAD The Panthers will break another franchise record Tuesday night if they can beat Tampa. A victory would be their 19th road win of the season, breaking the previous mark of 18 set in the franchise’s inaugural season of 1993-93.
The reason for the team’s success away from BankAtlantic?
“Probably because we’ve simplified our game on the road, we’ve played better defensively,” Martin said. “It’s hard to pinpoint. This year, we haven’t had as good a record, before March, at home. Our record (before March) wasn’t really very good (at home). But I think the way we look at it now is it doesn’t matter what our record is. We have to win games.”
NOTE The Panthers have taken 17 of the possible 18 points available to them in their last nine games and head into Tampa with an 8-1-2 record over the past 11 games.